L.A. city employee badly mauled by dog at Harbor animal shelter

San Pedro, CA - September 20: Jan Bunker, shown in front of the Los Angeles Harbor Animal Shelter, has worked for three years at the LA Harbor Animal Shelter. She alleges that the department has no system to oversee the feeding and care of small mammals such as rabbits and guinea pigs, leaving that care to the volunteers. She said that she has come into the shelter to find the animals lacking food and water. She also said that volunteers are forced to buy food sometimes because the shelter runs out of food. She is the latest volunteer to allege inhumane treatment of the animals. Photo taken at LA Harbor Animal Shelter, San Pedro, CA on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
An employee was badly mauled by a dog at the L.A. Harbor Animal Shelter in San Pedro on Friday. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A senior Los Angeles city employee was badly mauled by a dog Friday at a shelter in San Pedro, an incident that follows growing concern about overcrowded and unhealthy conditions for dogs at the city's animal shelters.

Leslie Corea, a kennel supervisor at Harbor Animal Shelter, told The Times on Saturday that she was getting a dog out of its kennel to show to a rescue group when it "flipped out" and attacked her leg.

Corea said she was undergoing surgery at Harbor UCLA-Medical Center.

Megan Ignacio, a spokesperson for L.A. Animal Services, confirmed that an employee was "severely attacked by a dog, resulting in serious injuries."

"L.A. Animal Services staff and volunteers are devastated by the injuries to our co-worker and friend. L.A. Animal Services has already launched an investigation into this incident," Ignacio said.

The city's animal shelters are in crisis because of a lack of space and an influx of animals, according to an email to the public from Animal Services sent out near the end of day Friday.

The email didn't mention the incident involving the staffer, but urged the public to step up to adopt and foster dogs.

The email said that dogs are "suffering physically and mentally from either their excessively long shelter stays or the challenging conditions resulting from overcrowding in the city’s shelters."

Animal Services Department General Manager Staycee Dains wrote in the email that “the crisis has put staff, volunteers and animals in harm’s way and we will continue to prioritize making this system safer for all involved.”

The department has the capacity to "safely and humanely care" for approximately 800 dogs at a time, according to the email.

But there are more than 1,500 dogs overseen by the department and nearly 50 dogs enter the shelters each day, the email said.

The poor conditions are leading the department to kill more dogs. Animal Services euthanized 102 dogs in April, a 44% increase compared with the same time last year.

Animal Services posts a list of dogs with scheduled euthanasia dates, referred to as the "red list" by volunteers. Animal Services does not view it as a "kill list" but as a "call to action," according to Ignacio. Nearly 90% of the dogs placed on the list since July 3, 2023, have been rescued, according to the department.

"These are animals that, if given the right home or rescue, could be rewarding companions, but who may need specific expertise to thrive, or who need a patient, caring, and invested home to take them right away," Ignacio said in an email last month.

A photo shared on the Animal Services X (formerly Twitter) account in April showed Dains playing with an elderly mixed-breed terrier named Bobby, who would later be added to the "red list" with a scheduled euthanasia date on Saturday. Bobby was adopted on May 24 by the Animal Rescue Mission. Shira Astrof, the rescue mission's founder, says the city's method of determining what dogs make it onto the "red list" is flawed, because Bobby was incorrectly listed as a safety concern by staff with Animal Services.

"They give dogs fabricated behavior notes," Astrof said. "He's an incredibly sweet, happy dog and he's an example that these false notes put adoptable dogs on the 'kill list.' (Animal Services) needs to admit that they're just killing dogs for space."

The department has adamantly denied that it euthanizes animals to make room in its city-operated shelters, as they operate on a no-kill policy.

Animal activists urged much more funding for Animal Services in Mayor Karen Bass’ $12.8-billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. But the City Council kept the level of spending for the department about the same as this year.

City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who chairs the committee that overseas animal issues, was among those who voted last month against the budget.

At the council meeting, Hernandez expressed frustration that about one-fourth of the budget will go toward the Los Angeles Police Department instead of to other city agencies.

On Saturday, Hernandez said in a statement that she was devastated over the incident involving the employee.

"The state of the city’s animal shelters remains completely unacceptable," Hernandez said. "It is urgent that we take immediate steps to address the crisis in our shelters to protect the safety and wellbeing of both the animals in our care and their caretakers."

Bass' office didn't respond to requests Friday for information about the injured Animal Services employee.

Ignacio, the Animal Services spokesperson, said last month that the department was working with Bass' office to minimize the effect of eliminating job positions that have been left vacant, including support jobs in shelter operations, veterinary and animal care.

The department also intends to "prioritize access to spay/neuter services and focusing on enforcing laws against illegal breeding," department spokesperson Ignacio said.

"In all cases we need the public’s participation to save lives. Most important is working to stem the flow of animals into the shelter," she said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.